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David Fox Interview

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we have another great interview from Ross Sillifant a.k.a Chryssalid,so please enjoy:

 

 

                               GOG Presents The David Fox Interview

 

 

The latest in my series of on-going interviews, is with Mr David Fox,
who whilst at Lucasfilm worked on what became one of the flagship
games of the 8 Bit era for so many of us old timers :-)

The majority of this interview will be based around Rescue On
Fractalus, as this was a game so groundbreaking and had such a
profound impact on myself and so many others, it'd be criminal not to
look into in depth.

 


Q1) I'd like to start by asking you, David, just how you came to be
involved at Lucasfilm and the 'origins' of Rescue as it were.What
were the inspirations behind the game?.  Was it a struggle to find the
right people and even then get the best results from a 1.79MHz, 48K 8
Bit Micro?. Also, the ground breaking use of fractals, this was a 1st i
believe for the home games industry, please tell us how it came into
being and what your personal role on the project was.

 


A) I knew I wanted to experience a first person flight game inspired
by Star Raiders, and of course by Star Wars. But I wasn't sure how to
do it.


When I first started working at Lucasfilm, I shared an office with
Computer Division member, Loren Carpenter. Loren was the first to
animate CG fractal landscapes in his short experimental film, Vol
Libre. So one of the first questions I asked him was, would it somehow
be possible to generate real-time fractal landscapes on an Atari 800.
Loren chuckled and said no, but a short while later he reconsidered.
He had an idea of how it might be done.

 

We loaned him an Atari to take home. A couple of days later, after
teaching himself the inner workings of the Atari 800 and 6502
Assembly, he came back with a working demo of flying around a fractal
terrain!


It looked like it might be feasible to use Loren's fractals as the
centerpiece of a game. So I came up with a design, and Loren was
loaned to our Games Group to help us make it happen. I became the
designer and project leader, and did the gameplay and UI programming,
as well as the launch sequence. Loren focused on the fractals, Charlie
Kellner handled the flight dynamics, sound engine, and cell animation,
and Peter Langston did the music and many  of the sound effects.

 


Q2) Just how 'different' would Rescue of been, had it not been for the
input of George Lucas?. By this, i'm wondering just which features he
suggested were made to the game and why, also how the team felt,
regarding the changes he suggested/asked to be put in etc.

 

A) By the time we showed it to George, much of the core gameplay was
in. You could fly around, land, and rescue pilots. But we didn't have
a fire button working because I didn't want this to be a shoot'em up.
George thought it was boring without that feature and asked that I put
it in. He also wanted to increase the tension in the game and came up
with the idea that sometimes the pilot running towards you was
actually one of the aliens we were fighting in the game. Both were
excellent suggestions and Rescue would have been a far less
interesting (and remembered) game without them.


The Jaggi monster popping up was definitely a technical challenge. We
had to put aside enough space for the animation frames, and had to
make sure we weren't using the CPU to render the fractals at the same
time. But Charlie pulled it off and was able to implement Gary
Winnck's cool animation.

 

 

Q3) The game seemed ideally suited to the A8 hardware and many like
myself, feel the Atari version is THE version you have to play (same
applies to Elktraglide/Dropzone etc). I later picked up the Commodore
64 Version, but the slower speed killed a bit of the game for
myself.Were you involved in any way with it's conversions to other 8
Bit systems and did you feel some simply weren't ideally suited to the
game?

 


A) I totally agree with you on that. That's where the A8's higher
clock rate helped over the C64's version. You really needed at least
6fps to feel like you were really flying.


I worked with the outside programmers on the trade offs we had to
make, but mostly due to the hardware, none of the other conversions
could play as well. I probably would have preferred not doing it on
slower and less capable systems, but that decision was out of my
hands.

 

 

Q4) I have to mention the sheer attention to detail running through out
the game, from the superb, Battle Star Galactica style opening,
stunning 3D visuals, great sound effects etc.Nothing seemed over
looked and all helped create such a stunning atmosphere.The tension
alone was superb, most of us jumped out of our skin when the pilot
banged on the hatch,the Alien trying to break through the
cockpit glass.

 

Was the concept of introducing an element of the player literally
being on edge throughout, there from the concept stages of the game or
added as game development progressed?.Also, didn't the game under go a
number of name changes along the way?.

 

 

A) The tension caused by the Jaggi popup was definitely not in the
original design (see above). Glad it's in the game! I still get email
from people describing their first Jaggi encounter. Fun!

 

The game had three names that I remember. Behind Jaggi Lines (Peter's
idea) was my favorite because of the pun (your view into the game was
behind the very jagged cockpit struts). But Atari thought it would go
over people's heads. Then Rescue Mission, but we all felt that was way
too boring. Finally, Rescue on Fractalus! with an exclamation mark at
the end (not sure why).

 

 

Q5) It might be something of a painful topic, but sadly, once you'd
given Atari an early version of Rescue, for them to look at, the game
found it's way onto the pirate bulletin boards and this 'leak' could
only have come from within Atari.The team must have been utterly
devastated and i wonder if there was ever any concern raised that by
handing over early code, it was at the mercy of people, you had no
idea could be trusted with it and it was due for release on a format
blighted by piracy as it was.

 

Did Atari themselves ever offer you anything in terms of an apology or
even conduct anything like an internal investigation into how it'd
been leaked?. Also, did the incident sour relations at all between
you and Atari?.

 

 

A) It was extremely upsetting, to say the least. We had never
considered that handing over unprotected disks to our publisher would
result in the games being leaked.  And yes, it definitely taught us
about trust issues. Atari said they investigated and no one there did
the deed.

 

Around the same time, we had given a set of disks to one of the
managers of Lucasfilm so his kids could play. Since the disks had no
serial numbers embedded in the code, we couldn't prove where the leak
actually occurred.

 

 

Q6) Just what were the differences between the 'leaked' version and the
final version? and was there ever an attempt at 'damage control' as it
were-for example PR message sent out basically asking people not to
play the unfinished version as it was a far 'inferior' product and
your team were hard at work making the final product worth waiting
for?.


Also talking of differences, what would the 7800 version of been
like, had it been finished? and what extras would you have liked to
put in, IF Atari had asked you to do a S.E type version of the game
for its 64K and 128K machines (800Xl/130XE etc) or to tie in with the
launch of the 65XE system in Europe.

 

A) The changes were mostly in the area of polish and bug fixes, but in
most cases, I'm sure no one would've noticed these differences unless
pointed out.

 

We probably didn't officially appeal to people not to download the
pirated versions because we didn't want to call more attention to
them. But by the time the official versions were released, most Atari
enthusiasts probably already knew.

 

The main differences in the 7800 version was higher resolution
player/missiles with more colors (in the case of Ballblazer) and a
better looking cockpit console in Rescue. I don't think there were any
gameplay differences.

 

Extras I'd put in on rescue would be more and varied Jaggi animation,
a better return trip to the mothership so you we didn't have to cloak
it in its invisibility shield, and an actual end to the game with a
big Win sequence and maybe a final boss level. I had 99 levels, but
tuned so I thought it would be impossible for anyone to actually make
it to the end. I know I couldn't make it beyond about level 45 myself!

 


Q7) If my memory serves, the Home Micro version of Rescue was delayed
(to capture the essential Xmas market?) and this must have presented
something of a double-edged sword,On the one hand you had extra time
to polish the coding, carry out more playtesting etc, but on the
other, it left people eager for the game, looking at the possibility of
just getting it via the pirate circuit.

Was the delay more of a curse
than a blessing? and had the Atari market itself, moved on perhaps by
time game was released? (hardware sales down perhaps?).

 

 

A) Yes to all. Would much rather have shown the game 6 months earlier
at the 1984 Winter CES. We thought Atari knew better.

 

 

 

Q8) The game was planned for A800, 5200 and at 1 point 7800.Did you ever
feel Atari were robbing Peter to pay Paul as it were as the game was
being rolled out on to many Atari formats and thus could of caused
consumer confusion, especially if the differences between all versions
were cosmetic, maybe just different frame rates and it would of been
'better' as a flagship game for perhaps just the home micro or one of
the Atari consoles?.

 

 

A) No, happy to have it on as many platforms as possible.

 

 

Q9) Finally on subject of Rescue, did you ever expect the game to become
the legend it is today? and have you seen/played the fan remake,
'Fallen Angels' on the Atari Jaguar, if so, any thoughts?.

 


A) Never expected that. We all thought our games would maybe have a
lifespan of 2-3 years, and would vanish when the hardware became
antiquated. Hadn't foreseen emulators running on much faster
computers.


And no, haven't seen Fallen Angels, but will take a look.

 

 

Q10) Moving on, did you have a role on further 8 Bit Lucasfilm projects?
Ballblazer for example?

 

A) Other than playtesting and giving feedback, not really.

 

Q11) Would you mind talking us through 'Mirage'?.From what little i know
of it, it was a joint venture, which would of been a sort of early V.R
system for theme parks?.Sounds incredible.I wonder just how far along
the project got, what the hardware or technology you were planning to
of used would of been and which games were in development? dare i ask
if you planned a V.R version of Rescue or a sequel? just running on
cutting edge hardware?. The thought alone...MAN....


Also, on that note, with Home V.R poised to return (again) would you
ever consider a Rescue 'Reboot' just running on 1 or more of the
planned Home VR systems coming to PC/PS4 etc?.

 

 

A) Mirage was a joint venture between Lucasfilm and Hughes Simulation.
We provided the creative (overall look of the pod, game design, sound
design, heads down display using an Amiga), and Hughes provided their
expertise in professional flight simulators. They knew about video
projectors, optics, image generators, and created the terrain, 3d
models, and flight simulation. The pod had three video projectors that
created a single seamless 120 degree image, bounced off of a
collimating mirror so you were focusing at infinity instead of 5 feet
away. It also had surround movie-like sound.

 

We had a working prototype that was networked to several other
workstations so you could play a multiplayer Flight game. It was
actually kind of like Rescue on steroids but placed in the Star Wars
universe. It took place on a planet with deep ravines and fog :-)

 

It was probably the best game I ever played. Maybe today it wouldn't
stand up to current  state of the art games, but it was awesome for
1992!

 

And yes, I'd love to do a Rescue reboot on current or next gen hardware!

 


Q12) What can you tell me about Cadillacs And Dinosaurs for the SEGA CD
system?.Here in the UK we saw previews of it, but i believe it was
only released in North America and Brazil.it looked superb, but then
cartoon-style FMV worked far better on the MCD it seemed due to
hardwares very limited colours etc, but what can you tell us of the
game itself?

 


A) Oh, yes, the imagery created for this game looked way better in a
subsequent PC version. See if you can find that. The video had to be
compressed so much for the Sega  CD was heavily dithered and lost all
of its vibrancy.

 

The gameplay wasn’t what I wanted either. The original design had
unique gameplay and scenery for each level, but the method of
production chosen by the powers that be just couldn’t handle the
design within the allotted timeframe so I had to cut way back and
simplify. Not one of my favorite games. But the artwork and animation
was first rate.

 

David, it's been an absolute pleasure talking with you and from myself
and the Retro Community, huge thanks for taking part in this.

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